London Hearts Supporters Club

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<-Srce <-Type Scotsman ------ Report Type-> Srce->
Stephen Frail <-auth Moira Gordon auth-> Charlie Richmond
5 of 015 ----- L SPL H

Dogged Bairns keep pack at bay

By Moira Gordon
at Tynecastle
POSSESSION only matters if you can do something with it. Hearts saw a lot of the ball in this match but could not translate it into scoring opportunities, let alone goals.
Falkirk, on the other hand, are currently in possession of the final top-six berth and made sure they held on toit with a resolute if somewhat perfunctory performance.

As the second half kicked off, the stadium announcer, in an attempt to rally the crowd, and possibly even the Hearts players, reminded them that the stakes were huge for the club and asked "who wants it most?" If desires translate into action, then the answer would appear to be the visitors. Because while this match ended in stalemate, in the bigger context it remains advantage Falkirk.

The split is now just two games away for these two sides and with the other contenders, Aberdeen, also drawing, it was a good day's work from John Hughes' side. Earning their fifth clean sheet from the past six matches, their new stoic approach made it impossible for a Hearts side blunted by a lack of real striking prowess to breakthrough.

Having impressed in the past with their flair and determination to play football on the deck, and treating fans to some slick passing, Falkirk have switched styles slightly now that the top-six prize is in sight. Gone is the pure attack mindset and more risky open play, replaced by a more organised and defensive philosophy. It may not be as pretty but it has earned them the chance to achieve their season's aim of seeing out the final five games of the term amongst the country's footballing hierarchy.

Tynecastle is a ground where they were destroyed 4-2 earlier in the season – the scoreline only given a degree of respectability due to two late goals – but from early in this match it was obvious a repeat was not on the cards.

"It was imperative that we came here and got something. We were organised and kept our shape, we were disciplined and resolute. I picked a team who could stand up to them and I think we did that," said Hughes. "We were then able to hit them on the counter-attack, which we did a few times."

Whether it was the perceived do or die nature of this one which got to the guys or not, there was plenty of urgency but very little fluency.

The game did swing from end to end but that was down to very little cohesive play. It was all breaking balls and clunking passages of play which made ground but very little real headway. In a game crying out for some composure, neither side possessed a player who could really dictate the tempo for any period of time and as a result the ball bounded about, taking a battering but causing neither keeper much concern.

Young Scott Arfield again impressed in the Falkirk midfield, while Jack Ross and Darren Barr, in particular, were key at the back.

Both sides knew that the onus was on Hearts and, booed off at the end, the truth is they didn't do enough. Caretaker manager Stephen Frail admitted that his side had "huffed and puffed" without much consequence. Calum Elliot had a chance in the 10th minute but Barr got back to block in the box.

Five minutes later Saulius Mikoliunas broke through, only to be foiled by the out-rushing Falkirk keeper, Robert Olejnik. There was controversy in the incident, though, as the keeper was out of his area and it appeared to be his arm that halted the ball but as the crowd appealed, referee Charlie Richmond waved play on. Apparently he agreed with Hughes' opinion that it was the keeper's chest.

Laryea Kingston was back in the Hearts team and, with few out-and-out strikers at his disposal, Frail started him just ahead of the midfield, with Elliot the lone targetman.

It was hoped that Lithuanian wingers Deividas Cesnauskis and Mikoliunas would get up and offer some assistance but the former had to be replaced after just 15 minutes. Audrius Ksanivicius came on, forcing a formation reshuffle which saw Kingston pushed back into the midfield four. There he was less effective and well hustled by Tom Scobie and Carl Finnigan.

Afterwards Frail was asked if last month's transfer of Andrius Velicka wo
uld ultimately cost his side a place in the top six, but he claimed that such was the paucity of goalscoring chances carved out in the match, that even the club's top scorer would have struggled to conjure up anything to turn the draw into a win.

And it could have been worse. As time ebbed away, Falkirk's veteran playmaker Russell Latapy looked to be preparing to come on but never entered the fray.

It may yet come back to haunt them, with a trip away to Aberdeen their final fixture before the split, but rather than go gung-ho in search of the win, Hughes was content to keep the chasing pack at bay for another week at least. For Hearts, it was yet another afternoon of frustration.

MAN OF THE MATCH: Darren Barr. Part of a Falkirk defence which was well-drilled and easily contained Hearts.

Taken from the Scotsman

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